Interview: Anbessie Yitbarek Discusses Boeing’s Role in the Growth and Development of African Aviation

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Boeing is the largest aircraft OEM serving the African aviation market and has supported the continent’s air transport growth and development for decades. With African airlines recording another collective loss for the year 2023, aircraft choices will continue to play a vital role in the viability and long term sustainability of the market.

Airspace Africa (AA) caught up with Boeing’s Vice President for commercial sales and marketing in Africa, Anbessie Yitbarek. The discussion covered Boeing’s role in Africa and continent’s future on the global aviation landscape.

AA. In what ways does Boeing perceive Africa as a key growth market for commercial airplanes, and what factors contribute to this assessment?

Anbessie Yitbarek: Until the pandemic, according to IATA, African aviation was growing rapidly at 5% per annum. Little over a month ago at the Dubai Airshow, Ethiopian Airlines signed a deal for the largest-ever purchase of Boeing airplanes in African history: 11 787 Dreamliner and 20 737 narrowbody airplanes with an option for an additional 15 and 21, respectively. This is one example that demonstrates the African market’s return, resilience, and determination by African airlines to capture the continent’s potential.

Within our recently published Commercial Market Outlook (CMO), we forecast that, with the expansion of intra-regional and domestic African networks, and as African governments initiate the SAATM agreement, African air passenger traffic will more than quadruple over the next twenty years and will require an additional 1,025 airplanes.

AA: How does Boeing analyze the unique market dynamics in Africa, considering factors such as economic growth, emerging airline demands, and regional connectivity needs?

Anbessie Yitbarek: African aviation has recovered at a strong pace over the course of 2023, predominantly led by pent-up demand, improved trading agreements with Europe and the rest of the world and a resilience in Pan-African economic growth driven by higher global commodity prices. African airline flights are currently 8% above pre-pandemic levels. Africa’s long-term annual economic growth of 3.4% is above the global average; this, combined with increasing rates of urbanization and a growing middle-class population, will continue to drive Africa’s long-term air traffic demand.

With Europe remaining the most prominent origin/destination for travellers to and from Africa, airlines in Africa will grow their fleets by 4.5% per year to accommodate passenger traffic growth.

According to Boeing’s CMO for Africa, single aisle airplanes are expected to account for more than 70% of commercial deliveries, with 730 new planes mainly supporting domestic and intra-regional demand. In addition, African carriers are estimated to need 275 new widebodies, including passenger and cargo models, to support long-haul routes and air freight growth.

AA: Given the competitive nature of the aviation industry, what strategies does Boeing plan to employ to distinguish itself and gain a competitive edge in the African market?

Anbessie Yitbarek: Boeing has the longest history of service of any airplane manufacturer in Africa. We have over 60 African airline customers operating around 500 Boeing airplanes throughout the continent – representing nearly 70% of the market.

We are in a privileged position to understand the needs of our customers and work incredibly hard to provide the best value and solutions that are right for them; our airlines must have confidence in our partnerships. Airplane fuel efficiency is critical, and in this, we deliver. For example,our 787-9 variant in the Dreamliner family reduces fuel use and emissions by 25% compared to the airplane it replaces. The 737-8 model reduces fuel use and emissions by 20% and creates 50% less noise pollution than the airplane itreplaces. Both families bring better environmental performance and passenger comfort to their respective markets.”

AA. How does Boeing plan to tailor its products and services to meet the specific needs and challenges faced by African airlines? Are there any specialized solutions in development for this market?

Anbessie Yitbarek: Africa’s cargo market is of particular interest to us. Air freight to and from Africa and within the continent is on a sustained growth trajectory, initially spurred during the pandemic when we saw 2021 cargo traffic 8% higher than in 2019. This growth has not waned.

Our new freighter variants, such as the 737-800BCF, carry up to 23.9 tonnes – and fly further – 3,750km – compared to 737 Classic Freighters. This new variant has had over 100 orders, surpassing the previous high mark for Boeing freighters.

Last year, our longstanding customer, Ethiopian Airlines, expanded its all-Boeing freighter fleet with an order for five 777 freighters. This will enable the airline to capitalize on near-term cargo demand, while positioning it for further expansion in the future.

In 2023, four African airlines joined the 737 MAX family, namely Cape Verde, Air Algérie, ASKY airlines and Air Tanzania. While, TAAG Angola joined the 787 family.

AA:  Boeing is known for its innovation and technology. How will Boeing’s advanced airplane technology contribute to enhancing the efficiency and operational capabilities of African airlines?

Anbessie Yitbarek: Airlines in Africa require flexibility in their fleets to thrive in the face of market volatility. The latest generations of Boeing airplanes provide this flexibility and operating efficiency while integrating with existing fleets.

Boeing launched the 737 MAX family in response to strong demand from customers around the world for an ultra-efficient single-aisle airplane. The 737 MAX delivers enhanced efficiency, improved environmental performance and increased passenger comfort to the single-aisle market. Powered by CFM International LEAP-1B engines and incorporating advanced technology winglets, the 737 MAX offers excellent economics, reducing fuel use and emissions by 20 percent compared to the airplanes it replaces.

The Boeing 737 MAX

The 787 family is delivering unmatched fuel efficiency to our customers, keeping them competitive in this challenging economic environment. Using 25% less fuel and creating 25% fewer emissions than the airplanes they replace, the 787 family has avoided more than 154 billion pounds of carbon emissions since entering service in 2011 (versus replacement airplanes). The 787 family flies at a speed similar to today’s fastest twin-aisle airplanes, Mach 0.85. Airlines also realize more cargo revenue capacity — a 20% to 45% advantage over replacement airplanes. Additionally, the three variants of the 787 have allowed Boeing customers to open previously unserved non-stop routes like Nairobi to New York (Kenya Airways) and Cairo to Washington DC (EgyptAir) because of the 787. Since revenue service began in 2011, the 787 family has launched more than 380 new nonstop routes around the world.

AA: Sustainability is increasingly important in the aviation sector. Could you elaborate on Boeing’s approach to providing environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient airplane options for African airlines?

Anbessie Yitbarek: On the sustainability front, Boeing is committed to the aviation industry’s goals for carbon neutral growth from 2020 going forward and commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

We have a multi-faceted strategy to decarbonize aerospace while ensuring the connectivity, societal and economic benefits that come from air travel are available to people everywhere:

New airplanes provide significant efficiency gains, and those we deliver this year will be as much as 25- 40% more fuel-efficient than the airplanes they are replacing.

Together with the aviation industry, we collaborate on how to operate and fly more efficiently, which collectively can reduce emissions by ~12%. Boeing works with airlines, government customers, air navigation service providers and airports on efficiency improvements. These include procedures such as continuous descent approaches and equipment upgrades such as GPS-based navigation for more direct routings. We also develop services to leverage data for fuel efficiency, help customers optimize flight planning, and provide pilots with real-time weather and traffic information.

Sustainable fuels are essential to long-term, large-scale CO2 emissions reductions that airplane technology cannot achieve and offer the best potential to reduce emissions significantly. Sustainably produced jet fuel reduces CO2 emissions by as much as 80% on a gallon-for-gallon basis.

For 15 years, Boeing has collaborated globally with airlines, governments, research institutions, SAF companies and other stakeholders to develop and approve SAF pathways.

Just a few weeks ago, a consortium, sponsored by the UK Department for Transport and including Boeing, Virgin Atlantic, Rolls-Royce plc, the University of Sheffield, Imperial College London and Rocky Mountain Institute, completed the world’s first transatlantic 100% SAF flight using a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 787 Dreamliner with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.

AA: Are there plans for Boeing to establish stronger partnerships with local entities, governments, or aviation organizations in Africa to support the growth and development of the aviation industry on the continent?

Anbessie Yitbarek: Our investments in Africa have helped grow the local aerospace sector, creating jobs and driving innovation for mutual benefit. We work with eight African suppliers, with partnerships valued at approximately $41 million.

Over the past several years in Ethiopia, Boeing has expanded its manufacturing footprint and attracted overseas suppliers to the region as JV partners to local industry in the area of airplane fuselage insulation blankets. Boeing has also deepened our commitment to growing the next generation of African engineers through university research collaboration.

We are also expanding our footprint in Tanzania, Kenya and Angola.

AA: Boeing’s commitment to customer support is crucial. How does the company plan to enhance training programs and aftermarket support to ensure the success and longevity of Boeing airplane in the African market?

Anbessie Yitbarek: Boeing has a long history of supporting African airline customers in training and developing their teams, including mandatory operations training and corporate skills development programs.


About – Anbessie Yitbarek

Anbessie Yitbarek is vice president of Commercial Sales and Marketing for Africa. Appointed to this position in January 2023, Yitbarek is responsible for leading the sales and marketing of commercial airplanes portfolio in Africa.

Previously, Yitbarek served as the vice president of Commercial Sales and Marketing for Boeing Global Services. Appointed to this position in March of 2018, Yitbarek led worldwide sales and marketing of commercial services products and offerings. He led the efforts to support customers throughout the challenges of the COVID pandemic, and successfully prepared the business return to profitability.
During his career, Yitbarek has held various leadership positions across the Boeing Company. Yitbarek previously served as vice president of Customer Support for Asia Pacific for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, where he served as a customer advocate and was responsible for ensuring world-class executive-level product support for airline customers. He joined Boeing in 2005 in the Customer Engineer Group, specializing in data analytics and maintenance optimization. In this role, he was awarded multiple patents for his innovation.
Before joining Boeing, Yitbarek spent over a decade at Ethiopian Airlines where he held various leadership positions, including chief operating officer. In that position, he
led more than 3,500 employees and oversaw Flight Operations, Maintenance & Engineering, Cabin Services, and other functions. Yitbarek also served on the Board of Directors of Ethiopian Defense Engineering Corporation during this time.
Yitbarek is actively involved in various community outreach programs and served as a board member of Ethiopian Community in Seattle. He earned a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Addis Ababa University. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Anbessie is married with two children and currently lives in Seattle, WA.

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